Evaluation: It’s not just for granting agencies!
7/13/22 / Kate Darwent
For most of our program evaluation work at Corona, we are assessing whether a program is having the intended impact. This is typically called outcome evaluation. Many granting agencies require program evaluation or are more inclined to fund programs that do regular evaluation. While I think it’s great that granting agencies are interested in program evaluation, I often find that clients may not think about evaluation beyond what a granting agency requires. Evaluation is an amazing opportunity to learn how to strengthen and grow. So I wanted to highlight some of the potential benefits of program evaluation for an organization, beyond just checking a box for granting agencies.
- Understand what parts of a program are stronger or weaker. At its most basic, program evaluation is about assessing whether a program is working or not. But a good program evaluation should help you look at different outcomes and understand the specific impact of the program. That level of detail can help you understand which parts of a program are stronger or weaker. For example, you may have a program that is supposed to strengthen math skills and confidence in middle schoolers. If your program evaluation shows that math skills improve significantly during the course of the program, but math confidence does not, you can modify the program to address that difference.
- Understand who is benefitting from your program. Programs often work best for specific audiences. Understanding the impact of a program for different populations can help you know where to implement a program or help you make modifications to expand a program to other populations. For example, your program evaluation may reveal that a patient navigator program works best for English-speaking populations and does not work as well for Spanish-speaking populations. Moving forward, you may opt to not use this program in Spanish-dominant areas and to instead seek funding to develop a more culturally sensitive version of the program that can have success with Spanish-speaking populations.
- Understand how your program is being administered. While a lot of program evaluation focuses on outcomes, implementation evaluation is also extremely useful. Not only can it give you some sense of what parts of program administration are critical to the success of your program, it also can show you how your program is actually being implemented and where snags occur in the process. For example, you might have a program that is having the intended impact, but when we interview the program staff, we find out that one module is taking three times as long as the others to implement. While the program is successful, there are probably ways to make it more efficient and easier to implement.
- Understand how to grow and evolve. Most of the examples above have already been about ways to grow or evolve a program. It’s important to keep in mind that most programs are developed to support people within a certain context or set of systems. Context and systems are not static, so programs may need to evolve over time as well. Healthcare systems change. Youth needs change. Understanding how the needs of your program participants change over time is critical to ensuring that a program is relevant and impactful.
Program evaluation can be a powerful tool for understanding how your program is or is not working. It can also be a way to demonstrate to program participants and donors that you are committed to effectively addressing a key need in the community. Evaluation is often a large undertaking for an organization—squeeze as many benefits out of the process as you can!